This past weekend, I attended the ICAN conference in St. Louis. I was really excited that the conference was in my own back yard (well, two hours from my back yard). I enjoyed seeing lots of people that I know from Friends of Missouri Midwives as well as other friends and contacts from other organizations. And, I got to meet some people in real life (like Jill from the Unnecesarean), who I previously only “knew” online. I also bought myself a pretty awesome new ring from the MANA booth (and a t-shirt and a bumper sticker!).
In addition to these things, highlights of the conference for me were:
- Hearing Pam England speak and getting to meet her after so many years of being a fan of Birthing from Within. I will write another post soon about her “9 Birth Story Gates” presentation. It was very good.
- Taking Amy Swagman’s birth art workshop (Amy is the Mandala Journey artist and was someone else that I enjoyed meeting in person after only “knowing” online). I will write about this soon as well.
- Seeing the amazing breech birth videos shared by Gail Tully of Spinning Babies in her presentation about breech birth.
- Connecting with another mother during the sand tray art therapy workshop presented by Maria Carella. Though our birth experiences were different, our “processing” of them during the workshop was amazingly similar. More about this later too.
The main reason I wanted to post tonight though was to share my experience in visiting the “Our Voices” room at the conference. This room is a safe, quiet place—a place of silence—in which women can go to to contribute their feelings about their cesareans to the wall displays. They can take their contributions home with them when they leave, or leave them up to be re-installed in the next Our Voices room at the next conference. Every wall in the room, plus the doors and several tables, was covered with women’s words and feelings about their cesarean experiences, subsequent births, VBAC, etc. It is difficult to put into words how potent of an experience visiting this room was. I was not expecting to be moved to tears by it, but I was. It was extraordinary. And, painful. There were other women in the room crying and crying as they composed their additions to the wall, as well as other women walking quietly through and looking and reading. I originally intended to add to the wall—I was told that it was not necessary to have had a cesarean myself in order to add something—but after seeing the room and the women in it, I did not feel “worthy” (so to speak!) of adding to it. It wasn’t my space. It was something I was privileged to witness, but I did not feel it was appropriate to add my own words to these women’s pain and expressive space. I felt like anything I could say would be trite somehow, almost insulting, to the depth of feeling expressed on the walls. Sometimes you really do have to have “been there” in order to fully recognize the experience of another. And, while I can certainly empathize and feel deep compassion, cesarean birth has not been my own personal journey and it just felt like it would be rude almost, to claim enough understanding of it to write on this wall.
This experience also taught me that I am not meant to start an ICAN chapter. I really think our area could use one and I love the work that ICAN does and I had signed up to start a chapter (before coming to my senses and realizing that I am overcommitted to too many projects/organizations right now as it is), but after visiting the Our Voices room, I realized that I am not the appropriate person to lead one. I just can’t really get it even though I can “see” other women and honor their experiences.
I’ve noted before that I feel like my experiences with pregnancy loss opened my heart more fully to the full range of birth loss (which includes many women’s feelings about their cesareans) and birth/pregnancy trauma. Before loss, I only saw the “pretty” side of birth. Well, not pretty, exactly, but the empowering and triumphant and exciting side. After my birth-miscarriage, my world was opened to the wider world of birth experiences and feelings. I feel like there are—somewhat surprising—parallels between pregnancy loss and the loss of a vaginal birth women experience with cesarean, but it is also different and the Our Voices room at the conference was a sacred space for those with cesarean experiences. It was both humbling and moving to hear their voices in this way.
There are pictures of the room and the contributions at the ICAN Conference Facebook page.
Thanks for sharing! I was deeply disappointed not to be able to attend (only 1 1/2 hours from my backyard!), and appreciate being able to read about other’s experiences there.
I HATE that there has to be room/safe space for women who have been so hurt and traumatized by their births. Thank you, ICAN, for giving these women that opportunity and working to lessen the pain they have.
I also understand where you are coming from about not really “getting it”. It feels important that those of us who have not had that experience “get” that we “don’t get it”. We can empathize, love and see them (as you said), but we can never fully understand. 🙂
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